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Five Components Determine How Healthy You Are

If you’re neglecting any of these areas in your health; if the shtf, you won’t be ready to respond.

A few years back when my kids were still pretty young, one of my girls and I and the family dog took a short walk in National Forest not too far from where we live. I had let the dog off the leash to stretch its legs while my young daughter and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll down a familiar trail. Free from the leash, the dog shot off down the trail only to come to an abrupt stop several hundred yards away, her hackles up, and staring intensely into the thick manzanita that lined each side of the trail. It was a bear with cubs.

I yelled, “run!” and my daughter took off like a rocket back the way we had come. Within seconds, I followed hoping the dog would distract the bear long enough for us to make it safely back to the vehicle. Time loses all meaning in moments like that and what could have been minutes felt like seconds. I quickly realized that the shock of accidentally crossing paths with a bear sow with cubs and the sudden burst of speed had stressed my heart. I was nowhere near close enough to the car and it already felt like my heart was going to burst and the muscles in my legs were on fire.

At the same time, the old saying, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you” flashed through my head. I was very glad to see my daughter running down the path and over fallen trees with the speed and agility of a deer. And I took comfort that, although I loved my dog very much, she would probably give her life to protect me from the bear…until she shot past me like a bullet.

I’m glad to say that we made it all out safely, including that damn dog that I wasn’t loving so much at the moment, but it was a sobering lesson. I was not in as good a shape as I thought I was. Also, thinking that my body would just know what to do in an emergency or that adrenaline would allow me to rise to the occasion like a lot of people think just wasn’t the case. When the SHTF, sometimes it’s a bear and sometimes it’s not. I wasn’t ready for any of it.

How Fit Are You?

It is a fact that past generations were more in shape compared to modern times. A healthy body that’s ready to take on whatever is demanded of it to the best of their ability should be the top priority of any prepper, not just for their own security, but also the security of loved ones that depend on them. I know that I could count on any one of my immediate family members if I ever needed help, but I also know that I have a personal responsibility not to overburden them in a crisis, and the best way I can do that is to make sure I am as healthy as possible before the SHTF. I would never want to put any of them in a potentially life threatening position to save me because I hadn’t bothered to take the time to get fit enough to save myself.

As well, many of us have physical limitations that can stop us from being as fit as we should. In an article on the subject, Tess Pennington writes, “As we get older, many of us are plagued with some type of physical limitation. Recognizing our physical weaknesses and figuring out how to make things work despite those weakness will be vital to our survival.”

Your Health Depends on These Five Components

Health, in this context, isn’t necessarily about weight, pants size, or any of the other standards of beauty frequently seen in fashion magazines. In this case, I’m talking about the ability to get the job done or get the hell out and that could mean different things depending on your own SHTF scenario.

Physical fitness can be measured by assessing five components of health: cardiovascular and respiratory, muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition, and flexibility. If you’re neglecting any of these areas, you won’t be ready to respond.

Cardiovascular and Respiratory Fitness

Each type of fitness effects the body in different ways and they all support each other. If you’re lacking in one type of fitness, it will diminish the performance level of another. In my case, I frequently hiked, but rarely at a pace that would bring my heart rate up. Cardiovascular exercises that require endurance and raise the heart rate like those performed by runners, rowers, cyclist, and swimmers, increase the size and strength of the left and right ventricles of the heart.

“The left ventricle is one of four chambers of the heart. It is located in the bottom left portion of the heart below the left atrium, separated by the mitral valve. As the heart contracts, blood eventually flows back into the left atrium, and then through the mitral valve, whereupon it next enters the left ventricle. From there, blood is pumped out through the aortic valve into the aortic arch and onward to the rest of the body. The left ventricle is the thickest of the heart’s chambers and is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to tissues all over the body. By contrast, the right ventricle solely pumps blood to the lungs.”


My heart wasn’t strong enough to supply the boost of oxygen-rich blood quickly enough to keep up with the demand. Respiratory health ties into this- although lung function doesn’t change dramatically, oxygen that is taken into the lungs is used more effectively.

Muscle Strength

Muscular strength can be measured by the force your muscles are capable of exerting (example: lifting or pushing) and endurance is the measurement of how long your muscles can exert the force without tiring. A sudden sprint away from a bear requires both. Lifting heavy sacks of feed, children, and any number of daily activities as a mom on a farm had given me plenty of strength, but hadn’t really prepared me for endurance.

Muscles are comprised of two types of fibers: fast twitch and slow twitch. Fast twitch fibers contract quickly and use a lot of energy, but they also tire out quickly. Slow twitch fibers, on the other hand, can work for a long time without getting tired and they also require a lot of oxygenated blood. Different types of endurance training will increase one type of fiber more than the other, but both types are important for running for your life.

Body Composition & Flexibility

Body composition is simply a relative measurement of muscle, bone, water, and fat in your body. We all know that carrying too much fat, especially around the waist, is bad for our health. Many people use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine their fat percentage, but the BMI is not without controversy:

“BMI does not take into account age, gender, or muscle mass. Nor does it distinguish between lean body mass and fat mass. As a result, some people, such as heavily muscled athletes, may have a high BMI even though they don’t have a high percentage of body fat. In others, such as elderly people, BMI may appear normal even though muscle has been lost with aging”


If you feel you’re carrying too much body fat, you probably are, and you should make every effort to reduce it to a healthier level. By doing so, you’ll be more physically fit, stronger, and have more endurance to meet the increased stress and physical demands of an emergency.

Flexibility, the range of motion across a joint, is also an important factor in being prepared. It’s much more difficult to perform a task when one isn’t flexible and it greatly increases the chances of injury. Flexibility exercises help increase he range of motion of joints, ligaments, and tendons so that muscles can perform at their peak.


In the years since, I’m happy to say, I’ve made a concerted effort to get physically fit and now at 50 years old, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I can hike eight miles with a 30-pound pack and a 1000-foot elevation gain in under two hours. It certainly wasn’t easy and there are times, especially around the holidays, that I let things slide. I probably still can’t outrun that damn dog, but I feel pretty confident that I can outrun you!
Next up, we’ll talk about some frugal ways to incorporate fitness into your everyday lives without breaking the bank so you too can get in shape to survive the bears in your life.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on January 24th, 2016